Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mark Dayton's final floor speech

Today, US Senator Mark Dayton delivered his final speech on the floor of the US Senate.

It has been almost six years since I was sworn in as Minnesota's 33rd United States Senator, with my friend and colleague, Senator Paul Wellstone, at my side. I began my term hopeful and optimistic. The Senate was evenly divided with 50 Democrats and 50 Republicans, and President-elect George W. Bush was promising to "change the tone" in Washington with a new era of bipartisan cooperation.

Our country enjoyed peace and relative prosperity. Outgoing President Bill Clinton, a Republican-controlled Congress, and over six years of economic expansion had combined to create the first annual surpluses in the federal government's "On Budget" account in 39 years, and they were projected by OMB to continue for at least the next decade. The Social Security Trust Fund's annual surpluses were going to be saved in a "lockbox" for the upcoming retirements of the large Baby Boom generation. There was even discussion of paying down the national debt to further strengthen our financial position.

Yet, we would still be able to increase funding for such essential needs as public education, affordable health care, seniors' drug coverage, and infrastructure improvements.
Just six years later, our country's condition has changed drastically, and mostly for the worse. We are mired in a disastrous war in Iraq, despite the heroic efforts and sacrifices by our armed forces. The fiscal integrity of the federal budget has been destroyed, with record-high annual deficits continuing despite budget gimmickry and a modest economic recovery. The federal tax base has been decimated by huge tax giveaways to the rich and super-rich that will burden our children and grandchildren. The Social Security Trust Fund's surpluses have been spent every year, in what the nonpartisan Concord Coalition has called "the most reckless fiscal policy" in our nation's history.

The Bible says that if the leaders don't lead, the people perish. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration and the Republican Majority in Congress have not led this country well, and our people are suffering the consequences: lost jobs, businesses, and farms; lost incomes, standards of living, and security; and lost loved ones killed or maimed in Iraq.

We have lost the national unity which followed the terrible atrocities of September 11, 2001, and the Bush Administration has lost the world's support, which they had after that awful attack. The President's decision to invade Iraq unilaterally, the absence of weapons of mass destruction that had been the initial justification for that invasion, and his Administration's disastrous mismanagement of Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein have squandered most of that national unity and international good will.

The Congressional Record will show that I opposed those failed policies and supported other, better alternatives. I was one of 23 Senators to vote against the Iraq War Resolution. I opposed the large tax giveaways to the rich and super-rich. In fact, during my six years in the Senate, I have voted 29 times to raise my own taxes. Why? Because our country needs those tax revenues, and I can darn well afford to pay my fair share of them, as can all other Americans with my good fortune.

I tried seven times, unsuccessfully, to get the Senate to honor its 30-year promise to school districts and schoolchildren and fully fund special education. The Senate did pass my "Taste of Our Own Medicine" amendment, limiting Members' of Congress prescription drug coverage to what they provided senior citizens through Medicare; however, my amendment was discarded by the House-Senate Conference Committee.

It has pained me deeply to see the Senate's Majority lead our country in what I consider the wrong direction. Our nation's founding principle was: "We the People," and it remains so today. If we are not always united by a common cause, we are bound together by a shared destiny. If the laws that this Senate passes are successful, "We the People" benefit together. If those laws fail, we suffer together. Some Americans will suffer more than others, as unfair victims of social and economic injustices; but, ultimately, all Americans cannot escape our common national fate. United we stand and succeed; divided we fall and fail. I regretfully believe that, during my Senate term, this Administration and its Congressional followers have caused too many divisions, declines, and failures.

Thus, I leave the Senate with strong feelings of frustration and disappointment. I have been unable to pass most of what I believed was most important to Minnesota, to our country, and to the world. I remain convinced that those policies would improve the lives of most Americans far better than what the Majority here enacted.

A cornerstone of democracy, which I honor, is that the majority prevails. Winning, however, does not make them right; and, unfortunately, it does not make them wise. In those decisions with which I have disagreed, time will tell us and the American people, who was right and who was wise.

I do want to thank my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, for the privilege to serve these last six years with them. I am grateful for the friendships I have made, which I hope will continue after my departure.

I especially want to thank the people of Minnesota who gave me this extraordinary opportunity to serve them in the United States Senate. Our democracy is, through all of human history, throughout the entire world, the most advanced and successful form of self-governance that human beings have ever devised. It is far from perfect, but it is far better than anything else. We, who are elected as its leaders and stewards, have sacred duties to uphold its principles, to elevate its policies, and to improve its practices, before we bequeath them to our successors. I have done my very best to fulfill those duties before I pass them to my outstanding successor, Senator-elect Amy Klobuchar.

We in this Senate and in the House of Representatives also have the duty to serve the best interests of all Americans. To be successful and sustainable, our government must improve the lives of all our citizens. Unfortunately, here in Washington, the people who already have the most, keep getting more than anyone else.

The excessive influences of their money and political power on the federal government are serious threats to our democracy. They skew decisions and laws in favor of the rich and powerful, often at the expense of other Americans, the hardworking people, who pay their taxes, and hope that their elected representatives will look out for them in Washington. It isn't too much for them to expect. However, it is, too often, more than they are getting.

They are told repeatedly that new laws and policies will improve their lives; yet, their real lives become worse, not better. They experience a deep disconnect between what they are told will happen and what is happening to them.

In attempts to hide those disparities, the words used in Washington are often carefully selected by very clever people in order to disguise reality, rather than describe it. For example, legislation that stripped many Americans of their bankruptcy protections for major medical expenses was named the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2004. Another bill, that would have increased industrial pollution, was entitled the Clear Skies Act of 2005. No Child Left Behind has knowingly underfunded Head Start, Title I, and Special Education, which has left millions of schoolchildren behind.

These deviancies and the disparities they create will be even more destructive to the American people's trust in their government in the years ahead. That's because the choices facing Congress will become even more difficult, as the needs of any aging population grow, but revenues do not. In about a decade, the Social Security Trust Fund's large annual surpluses will be replaced by deficits, and its IOU's from the general fund will add to that fund's own chronic deficits. If combined with today's enormous and unsustainable balance of trade deficits and a continuing erosion of our manufacturing job base, the consequences could be catastrophic.

That somber forecast has replaced my hope and optimism of six years ago, to my deep regret. Following the wisdom of "speak truth to power," I present my truth to the world's most powerful legislative body, the United States Senate, and one of the two institutions who must act to keep our nation strong. I hope that you will. I will pray for your wisdom to discern what is right, for your courage to act accordingly, and for your success on behalf of our great nation and the world.

Pundits will call the Senator too liberal, that he did not accomplish much for the State of MN, and, by evacuating his Capitol suite post Anthrax attack, a coward.

Mark Dayton is none of that. He's not too liberal, he has been a tremendous steward for MN, and he is not a coward. You cannot be a coward and serve in the US Senate.

I have had the pleasure of lobbying the Senator 4 times over the past several years. I've lobbied him on higher education and veterans issues. He has always been a strong advocate for not only those issues, but for working and middle class Minnesotans alike. Amy Klobuchar will carry this torch and the late Senator Paul Wellstone would be proud of Mark's work in Washington.

It reminds me of the story the Senator told (everytime the Minnesota college students came to lobby him).

Mark Dayton is a Yale grad, as is President Bush. Bush was a year senior to the Senator and they both served in the same fraternity.

Senator Dayton, always known for mixing things up a bit, pushing the enevlope and working for the heart and soul of America, would push for legislation and ask for support on the GOP side of the aisle.

Debating a bill on higher education, Pell Grants I recall (maybe Farm Bill for farmers, etc), one of the GOP colleagues states in debate that if he were to support this bill, "it would put the President in a compromising position."

Senator Dayton retorted, "I was the President's fraternity brother, I have seen George W. Bush in a compromising position, this is not that position."

Laughter burst throughout the room.

Senator Dayton served Minnesota honorably. We always had a friend we could lean on in Washington, one who would advocate for us.

Thank you for your service Senator Dayton!

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